2016 ACL QUALIFYING PLAY-OFF: Mohun Bagan vs Tampines Rovers
I-League champions Mohun Bagan take on last season’s S-League runner’s up Tampines Rovers in the first round of 2016 AFC Champions League qualifying play-off on 27th January at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata. While this will be Bagan’s first appearance in the ACL Playoffs, Tampines would look to become second time lucky.
Though it is the first apperance in ACL for Bagan, they are the fourth Indian team to play in the ACL Playoffs. None of the Indian teams viz. Dempo, Pune FC and Bengaluru FC has been able to cross the first round hurdle in their previous attempts. While all of the Indian clubs earlier had to play tough away games, Mohun Bagan have the advantage of playing in their home ground.
Indian Clubs in ACL: At a Glance
2011 : Dempo 0 – 2 Al-Sadd
2014 : Pune 0–3 Hà Nội T&T
2015 : Bengaluru FC 1–2 Johor Darul Ta'zim
Coming off a strong start to the season Mohun Bagan would look to go for a win in this continental glory. With a full squad available for Sanjoy Sen it would be interesting to see how he strategises for this important match.
Once again the onus will be on the forward trio of Sony Norde, Cornell Glen and Katsumi Yusa to provide the impetus. With Balwant nursing an injury, Jeje Lalpekhlua might just get a start and pair Glen upfront. While in midfield, Defensive midfielder Pronay Halder will have a big role to nullify the rival attack. Also The Mariners coach might just hand Brandon Fernandes his debut in Mohun Bagan colours. The cause of concern for Bagan coach though would be the shaky defence which has leaked in 4 goals in 3 I-League matches so far. The centre back pairing of Luciano Sobrosa and Kingshuk Debnath would have a tough outing no doubt. It would interesting to see though whether Sanjoy Sen persists with right-back Pritam Kotal, arguably the weak link in the defence.
TAMPINES ROVERS FC
Last season, S-League runners-up Tampines have never reached the group stage of the AFC Champions League. Their last outing in Asia's premier club competition, in 2014, ended at the hands of Hong Kong's South China in round one of the qualifiers.This season though The Stags have undergone a major overhaul by signing several new players. Recently they made the biggest noise by signing former Liverpool winger Jermaine Pennant in a record deal in Singapore football history. Joining Pennant in the quest for silverware are established Singapore internationals, including last season's top local scorer Fazrul Nawaz goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud, midfielders Izzdin Shafiq and Shahdan Sulaiman.
Though much to the dismay of the visiting team, Pennant will take no part in the match against Mohun Bagan as he was not registered on time. Inspite of that Tampines would have a strong attacking line-up lead by Fazrul Nawaz and Canadian forward Jordan Webb, another new signing. Manning the midfield for The Stags will be former Singapore International and Tampines captain Mustafić Fahrudin alongwith national team regular Shahdan Sulaiman. In defence the job of keeping the Bagan attack at bay will be on former BEC Tero Sasana centre-back; South Korean defender Kwon Jun, who will be partnered likely by Afiq Yunos alongside full-backs Ismadi Mukhtar and Shakir Hamzah.
Mohun Bagan would start as favorites no doubt due to their home advantage. Also the fact that they are already in the midst of the season would work in their favor. On the other hand Tampines have just started their pre-season and have played only 2 practice games so far. Finding the right combination will be the key for coach V. Sundramoorthy.
With no short of attacking options; if Mariners can keep their defence tight they might just well come out winners in this competitive match and create history by becoming the first Indian team to win an AFC Champions League encounter.